How wonderful to wake up to a birthday surprise from David Bowie. His first new single in ten years is the best kind of late-period Bowie: stripped-down, with none of the singerly flourishes parodied by a young Angus Deayton on Ahead of My Time (http://bit.ly/fub9mY: “I think I’m losing my miiiiiiind!/I’m disappearing up my behiiiiind!”). As Caitlin Moran Tweeted, “only David Bowie could make a song about using public transport in Germany sound so wracked and lovely.” But of course it’s really mostly about not dying of a heart attack in 2004. The song ends: “As long as there’s sun/As long as there’s rain/As long as there’s fire/As long as there’s me/As long as there’s you.”
The biggest surprise about the single, however, is that it was a surprise. As his PR Julian Stockton Tweeted to fellow PR guru Mark Borkowski: “Keeping a secret in the 21st century, wasn’t sure we’d pull that off.” Bowie’s son, once called Zowie Bowie and the subject of A Couple of Kooks, now called Duncan Jones and the acclaimed director of Moon and Source Code, nearly parted cat from bag yesterday: “Heh heh heh,” he Tweeted cryptically. “I know something you don’t.”
It’s a typically brilliant and bold move from one of the first stars to realise the power of the Internet back in the ‘90s, bypassing the traditional Media Megaton detonation of a press-managed announcement for the million tiny fireworks it will let off in the Twittersphere.
And it’s so good to have him back. Bowie was my Moonage Daydream back when I was Teenage Wildlife: his face stared down at my bedroom from dozens of pages ripped from a photo-biography. I finally interviewed him for a Time Out cover feature back in 1995 (full Q&A here: http://bit.ly/UFRNO1). When we shook hands, there was a shockingly loud crack from his elbow, and I thought for a horrible moment I might have broken his stick-thin arm.
Nicolas Roeg, in a special screening/Q&A recently of The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) at the ICA, remembered what a frail figure his leading man was: not eating, coked up to the eyeballs. That scene where Candy Clark carries him to his hotel room could not have been done with any other actor.
Yet he’s still here, thank God. If anyone’s earned the right just to sit at home and be happy, while his son goes out and changes the world for him, it’s Bowie, who’s acted in nearly 20 films, sold 140 million albums, invented glam rock and helped inspire punk. So to announce a new album in March as well as the massive V&A retrospective… Mr Bowie, sir, you are spoiling us. A lot of people are commenting that this beautiful, simple, elegiac song is the one that would be played at his funeral. I’ve got a better suggestion: Boys Keep Swinging.